|Home - Volume 2 (2007) - Issue 2 (Spring '07) - Pistol Review: Para-Ordnance CWX645G Carry GAP|
Para-Ordnance CWX645G Carry GAP
Full power in a micro package
A Gun Test by Harwood Loomis (Hawkmoon, )
A little over a year ago I was privileged to receive an invitation to tour the Para-Ordnance factory in Ontario, Canada, on behalf of The M1911 Pistols Organization. Naturally, I accepted the invitation, and the report of the tour was previously written up here . The true high point of the visit, of course, was the opportunity to not only meet the late Ted Szabo but also to sit down with him and chat at some length about his ideas, his future projects, and his passion for the 1911 pistol platform. As a result of Ted's unfortunate recent demise, that conversation has been firmly ensconced in my personal log of "most memorable events."
There were other, lesser highlights from that tour of the Para-Ordnance factory, too. One of those highlights was an opportunity to see, hold, and actually fire the working prototype of their then-rumored .45 GAP micro pistol. At the time I shot the working prototype, Springfield Armory had announced their intention of introducing a scaled-down 1911 for the .45 GAP cartridge but had not brought the product to market, and the release of Springfield's 9mm EMP on the scaled-down platform was still several months in the future. But there I was, in a small on-site indoor range within the Para-Ordnance factory, putting rounds down range in a pistol most people refused to believe could be made to work.
Fast forward several months, and I received notification that a care package with my name on it had arrived from Para-Ordnance at Chris Indoor Shooting Range. As soon as I could make the trek across town I hurried over to inspect the new arrival. The pistol itself was the model designated the "Carry GAP," Para-Ordnance model CWX645G. In Para's nomenclature, that translates to 6 round magazine, .45 caliber, GAP cartridge.
The pistol arrived in a Para-Ordnance standard molded plastic "clamshell" case. The case contained, in addition to the pistol, two magazines (both with extended polymer floor plates), a cable-type gun lock (required by law in many jurisdictions), an instruction book, a test target, the quality control final inspection sheet for the pistol, and a coupon for installation of night sights. The clamshell case is secured in the closed position with two plastic snap catches and it incorporates a tang with a hole through it, allowing the case to be locked with a small padlock for travel or carry in locations where handguns must be transported in a locked container.
The standard sights on the Carry GAP are 3-dot "combat" style sights. The coupon included with the pistol allows the owner to send the slide (it isn't necessary to send the complete pistol) to the Para-Ordnance service facility to have night sights installed for the price of $99, including return shipping. A quick look at the prices of night sights in Brownells' catalog should be enough to convince anyone that this is a bargain for those who want night sights on their pistol.
The magazines are stainless steel tubes, with extended polymer floor plates and polymer followers. Although for the Carry GAP the magazines are rated for six rounds, we found that with the extended floor plates they can actually hold seven rounds. The same length magazines with flush, welded floor plates would only hold six. I mentioned this to George Wedge and he indicated that regularly stuffing the extra round into a magazine rated for six rounds would probably not be conducive to long life for the magazine springs, but it's nice to know that you can squeeze in an extra round if it appears the occasion might require maximum capacity. This would allow the pistol to be loaded up with 7+1 rounds and the spare magazine with 7 ... equal to the capacity of a full-size Government model M1911!
What It Is
The Para-Ordnance Carry GAP is a "micro" 1911-style pistol. The 3" barrel and slide are smaller than a Colt Officers model, but beyond that the Carry GAP is the second of the "short-action" 1911s, built with a grip frame that is shorter fore-to-aft than a standard 1911, to reach the market (the Springfield Armory EMP in 9mm being the first). Although the overall dimensions of the Carry GAP are almost identical to those of the Springfield EMP, the Carry GAP differs in that it is chambered for the .45 G.A.P. cartridge, which replicates the ballistics of standard .45 ACP ammunition in a cartridge the length of a 9mm; and in being equipped with Para-Ordnance's exclusive LDA double-action only trigger mechanism and PXT Power Extractor. The overall package is even smaller than the Para-Ordnance Slim Hawg (reviewed previously here) or Colt's Defender. While I do not claim to know of every pistol available in today's firearms marketplace, I will venture to guess that this little pistol is the smallest package available that offers full .45 ACP power.
As mentioned, this pistol is one of Para-Ordnance's patented LDA double action models. With regard to this, I can offer no advice other than: "Try it." It has been my experience that most people who try the LDA trigger either like it, or at least don't find it highly objectionable. A few shooters, however, usually those with a long familiarity with the traditional single action 1911, cannot adapt to the LDA trigger and do not like it. I have owned a Para-Ordnance 12.45 LDA since 2001 and, as a result, the LDA trigger held no surprises for me. The trigger swings on a top pivot, and anyone who shoots a revolver will find the trigger motion to be very revolver-like. The trigger pull is, in my opinion, clean and predictable, and about perfect for a carry pistol. Measured using an RCBS analog trigger scale, the initial take-up stage measured approximately 3½ pounds, with the break weighing in at 5½ pounds. (My personal 12.45 LDA breaks at 5 pounds even, and has always felt lighter.)
The thumb safety has an extended paddle on the left side of the pistol, and is not ambidextrous. Other Para-Ordnance pistols are offered with an ambidextrous safety, so we believe that it is possible to fit one to this pistol for those who need the flexibility offered by another paddle on the "off" side. The extended paddle is easily reached and operated, but not so large as to cause problems. Daily carry in a Horseshoe Leather OWB belt holster never resulted in the safety being accidentally released.
The grip safety is Para-Ordnance's standard configuration. Although it does not display a conspicuous palm swell at the base, as is common on many 1911s in today's market, the base of the grip safety is deeper than a standard, military pattern M1911 grip safety, with the contour nicely blended to the increased depth so as to be entirely unobtrusive.
As with all Para-Ordnance pistols, the barrel sports an integral feed ramp. The barrel in the Carry GAP is also a bushingless, cone-shaped barrel that locks up directly to the slide. The recoil spring is a dual-spring, encapsulated assembly incorporating concentric springs and a full-length guide rod. There is also a small, reverse recoil spring plug that fits into the slide's dust cover and incorporates arched segments to guide the barrel into lockup.
Also in common with all but the very first LDA pistols from Para-Ordnance, the hammer is spurless. Since the hammer of an LDA pistol is in the down position for carry, this allows LDA pistols to be carried in holsters designed for single action 1911s with a retainer strap over the cocked hammer. Also, the hammer of an LDA pistol should not be manually cocked, and so the lack of a hammer spur to grab hold of helps to prevent accidental damge to the mechanism.
Fit and finish of the test pistol appeared to be excellent. The test pistol came in a black Para-Kote finish, with black grip panels. The fire controls, too (with the exception of the trigger) are all black, in what Para-Ordnance likes to call its "Covert Black" color scheme. I happen to like this treatment. With the pistol carried in a black holster, the package is very easy to conceal with most clothing other than all white.
One feature I do not care for, but which seems to be popular among Para-Ordnance owners, is Para's exclusive "Griptor" treatment of the front strap. Rather than checkering or stippling, Para-Ordnance machines in a series of horizontal grooves running up the front strap. Adherents of this treatment claim it makes small-framed "micro" pistols easier to control during shooting. My own dislike of the treatment stems from the fact that my hands are abnormally sensitive to pressure, and the concentrations of pressure resulting from the striated front strap surface becomes painful for me after extended shooting. I suspect that this problem is quite rare, but I would suggest that anyone suffering from arthritis in the hands should try out a Para pistol with the Griptor treatment before buying one. Since I don't have any trouble controlling a Para Slim Hawg, which is nearly as small as the Carry GAP, I am unconvinced of the benefits claimed for the Griptor treatment, but I have to concede that I appear to be in a small minority by holding to that opinion.
I was somewhat surprised to find that the mainspring housing (flat, as on most Para-Ordnance pistols) is serrated vertically, but not checkered. The Slim Hawg we tested previously was checkered. My off-the-cuff evaluation of the difference is that the checkered mainspring housing probably provides a marginally better grip, but the checkering is sharp enough that extended shooting can irritate sensitive hands. The serrated mainspring housing still provides a decent hold on the abbreviated grip frame, but doesn't abrade the skin as much when spending a long afternoon (or evening) with the little pistol at the range.
To the best of my knowledge, Para-Ordnance makes their own magazines. I saw them being made when I toured the factory, so this is not idle rumor. The magazines that came with the Carry GAP were very well made. I know from my personal observations that the magazine tubes are welded along the back edge, but the welds are almost invisible. The pistol itself does not have an extended magazine well, but the opening of the standard magazine well is neatly flared and beveled to facilitate magazine insertion.
How does it shoot?
Testing was conducted at Chris' Indoor Shooting Range in Guilford, Connecticut. This is an indoor, underground facility located in a suburb of New Haven and used by a number of area gun clubs and local police departments. I shot the pistol off a bench, using a 50 caliber ammo can as a rest. Our protocol for testing at M1911.org calls for shooting Commander and full-size 1911s at 25 yards (approximately 23 meters), and compact and Officers-size pistols at shorter range. Because this pistol has a 3-inch barrel, I shot the accuracy portions of the testing at a distance of 25 feet (approximately 8.3 yards, or 7.7 meters). The procedure in this test was to shoot 6-round groups, discarding the worst round in each group and counting the best 5 of 6 for the group size.
We were able to come up with four different loads in .45 GAP, two from the stock at Chris' Indoor Shooting Range and two through the courtesy of the manufacturer. We are indebted to ATK/Speer for providing us with samples of Speer Lawman 200-grain TMJ and Speer Gold Dot 200-grain JHP ammunition for this test. Chronograph data were recorded using a CED Millennium chronograph set up 12 feet in front of the shooting position. The results are summarized in the following table:
For a comparatively small pistol firing full-power ammunition, the Para-Ordnance Carry GAP is more accurate than it has any right to be. The results with the Carry GAP were so impressive, in fact, that I had to dig out the Para-Ordnance Slim Hawg we previously tested and shoot it again, because the Carry GAP shot so much better than the test results I had recorded with the Slim Hawg. I am happy to be able to report that shooting the Slim Hawg resulted in accuracy on a par with that obtained with the Carry GAP. That does not console me overmuch, however, because it means I did not manage to obtain the best possible results in my test of the Slim Hawg. For that, I must apologize to the good people at Para-Ordnance.
Despite the short and smaller-than-usual grip, the Carry GAP was easy to hold and I did not find that it moved around a lot in my hand as I was shooting. Also different from the Slim Hawg was the fact that both Carry GAP magazines have extended polymer floor plates that provide a bit of additional real estate for the pinky finger at the bottom of the grip. The Slim Hawg came with one magazine that had a flush floor plate, and one with an extended polymer floor plate. The folks at Para-Ordnance have informed me that, by popular demand, they now ship all pistols with both magazines equipped with the extended polymer floor plates. It should be noted that my hands are not especially large for a male of my height. Although I found the Carry GAP to be easy to hold and to control, men with large or "meaty" hands would be well-advised to try shooting this pistol before buying, because it might prove to be too small for some people. On the other hand, it would be ideal for women and men of smaller stature or with small hands, who find a traditional 1911 a bit too large to shoot comfortably.
I wish I could report that the test pistol functioned flawlessly throughout our testing but, alas, such was not the case. From the outset, we experienced instances of the first round being reluctant to chamber, whether releasing the slide by the slide stop lever or by "slingshotting" the slide. Once the first round was chambered, there was generally not a problem running a full magazine through the pistol. However, as the testing progressed we noticed that the slide stop lever had a tendency to "walk" out of the receiver while we were shooting. It never fell out or caused a malfunction, but it did back out far enough that the slide failed to lock open on empty. Three of us encountered the same combination of symptoms. Once we realized that the symptoms were related, we inspected more closely and discovered that the "fat" part of the bullet's ogee was impacting the slide stop lug, which was causing the first round to try to submarine under the slide stop rather than tip up and slide up the feed ramp. Apparently, the timing when shooting was just right to allow the next round to push the slide stop out of the way laterally as it rose up, thus allowing subsequent rounds to chamber with no problem but not allowing the slide to lock back when the magazine was emptied.
This condition occurred with both magazines, and with all of the various test ammunition. When we reported it to Para-Ordnance, they instructed us to send the pistol to their repair facility for diagnosis. Rather than keep us waiting while the service facility performed their magic on the original test pistol, Para-Ordnance promptly sent us a second pistol. We have run several boxes of ammunition through the second pistol and I am pleased to report that the replacement has functioned with 100 percent reliability. I have not yet learned whether or not the service facility has been able to diagnose the cause of the problem with the first pistol but, given Para-Ordnance's record for reliability and the fact that the replacement pistol has yet to produce a single hiccup, I am cautiously optimistic that, whatever the cause of the problem, it was atypical.
Actually shooting the Para-Ordnance Carry GAP has somewhat altered my skepticism regarding the viability of the .45 GAP cartridge. When I first heard that Para-Ordnance was going to produce a scaled-down 1911 for the .45 GAP cartridge, my immediate reaction was "So who needs it? Gee, it'll be a great little gun if they make it in 9mm, though." After shooting the Carry GAP, however, I have to say that it's a very nice little pistol. Having small-ish hands myself, I tend to forget that there are shooters with hands even smaller than mine, who have trouble holding and shooting a full-size 1911. Although there are any number of 9mm and .380 ACP mini-pistols available, the selection of small pistols for those who want to shoot .45 caliber has been much more limited. The Para-Ordnance Carry GAP fills this void in the marketplace. Perhaps for the first time, shooters with small hands can have a 1911 that's easy to control, comfortable to shoot, and fires a .45 caliber bullet with the exact same ballistics as the venerable .45 ACP cartridge.
The Para-Ordnance Carry GAP isn't the perfect pistol for everyone, but for those who want or need a .45 caliber carry weapon, who prefer the 1911 style pistol, and who don't have hands large enough to hold a standard 1911 securely, the Carry GAP is the perfect answer. Shooters with small hands no longer need compromise by buying a smaller caliber pistol in order to find a gun they can hold. In this writer's opinion, that's important.
You may discuss about this pistol, ask questions or in general discuss about this review, in this thread in our Forums Site:
Caliber: .45 GAP
Federal and Speer Ammo
ATK Ammunition Systems Group
Competitive Edge Dynamics USA
Orders: (1) 888-628-3233
Chrisí Indoor Shooting Range
Phone: (203) 453-1570
|Home - Volume 1 (2006) - Issue 2 (Fall '06) - Pistol Review: Para-Ordnance CWX645G Carry GAP|